Can the Government Completely Ban an Application from Its Users? Not Exactly

In recent days, U.S. President Donald Trump announced a U.S. ban Tik Tok, an extremely popular application that features short videos where their creators often dance or lip-sync to viral audio clips. Trump issued the ban because U.S. officials have become increasingly concerned that the Chinese government could access personal information about Americans who use TikTok. Tik Tok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance Ltd. 

How does the government remove an application from its users, and can it in fact remove it 100 percent?

Randy Magiera, a cybersecurity expert and professor of information technology and information security in Tulane University’s School of Professional Advancement, says “Completely banning an app is a very complex task and is very difficult to achieve.”

“Countries such as India, which has also prohibited applications such as TikTok, ban the applications at the network level, preventing communication between smartphones and the application servers. This approach has limits, as any user who currently has the app installed on his or her smartphone can easily bypass the block using a virtual private network (VPN). VPN’s are readily available in all of the major app stores and are free in many cases, though using a free VPN raises privacy concerns. The government can also ban financial transactions crippling the company’s ability to make money, but end users are still able to use the application in this scenario, albeit in a limited manner.”

“Governments can also ask the cloud computing companies hosting the application’s servers to cease doing business with TikTok. Still, as with the previous approach, there is no guarantee the companies will comply, and TikTok hosts at least some of their servers in their private data center, which makes this approach even less effective. Also, users can install the app on their phone either from a different app store or if they can find the file on the internet,” Magiera said.

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